Dear Dot: Is It Time to Ditch Diamond Engagement Rings?

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Dear Dot,

My longtime partner and I are planning to get married. I don’t usually go for a lot of the conventional stuff but we have decided to give each other rings. I’ve heard some nasty stuff about diamonds and gold mining. How can we show our love for each other without harming anyone else?

—Kate

Dear Kate,

On my left hand, I wear a ring that has graced the fingers of three generations of women in my family. It was purchased for my grandmother by her second husband, a grandfather I adored. When my grandmother passed, my mother inherited it. Mother Dot, however, had nary a sentimental bone in her body and, as the recipient of her grandmother’s numerous diamonds, not to mention the engagement ring from my father, decided that this sparkler was one too many and decided to sell it.

It was at this juncture in time that my then-boyfriend and I were auditioning each other for the role of Dots for Life. One night, I discovered a signature blue Tiffany brochure. H’mmm, I thought. I mentioned, as casually as I could, that if he was considering an engagement ring, I’d like one with history. Specifically, my family’s history. The rest is, umm, history. 

Unfortunately any diamond, including the one that was shortly thereafter installed on my finger, comes with a whole lot of history that most of us would prefer to remain ignorant of. 

Conflict, corruption, war, abuse, environmental degradation. The story of diamond mining holds all of those things. Ukrainian President Zelensky recently blamed Russian diamonds that were circumventing sanctions and being sold in the U.S. for helping fund Putin’s invasion. 

In 2003, under pressure from consumers and governments, the diamond industry claimed it would clean up its act. It created the Kimberley Process (KP) with the stated aim to create transparency and offer consumers the promise of a “clean” diamond. Yianna Melas, a gem explorer, activist, and outspoken critic of KP told me via an Instagram chat, that “It’s failed miserably. And was never structured to deal with the real issues.”

Chief among those real issues, he said, are political corruption and human rights abuses. 

So what do you do when you want your love expressed in minerals and jewels? (Because, as you note, diamonds aren’t the only jewelry funding corruption – gold, emeralds, rubies… they all have an unsavory story attached to much of what’s mined.) 

There are diamonds that are less likely to be “dirty”, such as those from Canadian mines where oversight is much more stringent. Further, your question is one being considered and responded to by the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which, because of specific pressure around Russian diamonds and broad pressure around conflict diamonds, just announced its intention to, according to a release, “provide retailers and consumers with the diamond source information they demand.” They’re doing this via what they’re calling GIA Source Verify, a program at no cost to consumers that traces the diamond to its origin. Stay tuned for its launch.

In the meantime (and while we wait to see if this latest initiative has teeth), talk to a reputable jeweler, who should be able to tell you exactly where their diamonds were mined and trace for you the path they took to the display case. Consider lab-grown diamonds which have much the same properties as mined diamonds but with an environmental impact seven times less. Look also for jewelry companies that are B Corporations, with a strong policy of social and environmental justice. 

You might seek out jewelry made with recycled materials, including gold, which, at least, is much less carbon intensive than newly mined gold. Look for Fairmined Ecological Gold/Fairtrade Ecological Gold, which supports smallscale, artisanal miners.

Or take a page from Dot’s wedding album and look for estate jewelry. If you prefer a more modern look, you can even have stones removed and reset, or metals melted down, depending on your aesthetic. While the diamond/metal itself mightn’t be less dirty, you’re at least not contributing to a market for more. The damage has been done, to put it bluntly.

Whatever you choose, congratulations on your upcoming nuptials and Dot salutes your desire to start a long union as conflict-free as possible.

Dazzlingly,

Dot

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